tv The Last Word With Lawrence O Donnell MSNBC January 25, 2018 7:00pm-8:00pm PST
archbald cox. we haven't yet seen that kind of profile and courage. although as you were saying, rachel, some of what you were saying about don mcgahn looks good. >> if he's staking himself against don hague, i'd want to be the don mcgahn character. >> things we never expected to see. and hope not to. >> right. hope we wake up and it's not happening. i enjoy you being here on short notice. thank you for being here. >> be well. >> that does it for us tonight. i had a whole other show. i will save it for you. maybe. see you again tomorrow. now it's time for "last word with lawrence o'donnell." >> come on over and do your whole other show. just hand it to me. i'll just read it. rachel, among the things i never expected to hear from you is i would want to be the don mcgahn in that -- in a story. >> yeah. >> but in tonight's story, it is
don mcgahn who prevented what would have been an even bigger event than the firing of james comey. >> given what's been reported about the role of don mcgahn in the white house and the role of his deputies, remember the reporting that one of his deputies lied to the president to maneuver him out of firing james comey when he wanted to. it's trying to imagine the relationship between don mcgahn and the president right now as all of these news stories are coming out showing us that don mcgahn is the man saving us from the abyss. it's hard to imagine what it's like inside the white house. >> and more confirmation of michael wolff's book, through bannon rephrasing it for him, saying i can fire mueller, i can fire mueller. and bannon ranting against the idea of what the president thinks he can accomplish by firing mueller. >> we will eventually -- when the movie is made of this, when
you write the best selling book about this somewhere down the road, my friend, we will learn more about the sourcing of the stories and the strategy behind the sourcing of the stories why we're learning about it in january if it was in june, why there are four sources who are willing to talk to the times about this, the kind of worries the individual white house staff have about their own liability on these things. in hindsight this will become clear but right now we're living through it minute by minute trying to understand how serious this stuff is. >> if one witness tells the special counsel something, that might not leak out. but this is a story that more than one witness has information about. so you have, you know, reince priebus, former white house chief of staff, he was chief of staff at the time this was happening so he would know this was happening. he has spoken to the special prosecutor, don mcgahn has spoke ento the special prosecutor, they all have lawyers.
there are dozens of people who know this has been told to the special prosecutor, and the leak capacity out of all these legal teams surrounding these people is enormous. >> once again we're finding out there's something really important and dramatic that the whole country has been on the lookout for a very long time and not only did it happen but mueller has known about it for months and there was no peep about it until tonight. again that's aban important part of the story. >> says, quote, if he fires mueller, it just brings the impeachment quicker. on june 12th, on this program, we reported that white house correspondent for american urban radio networks, april ryan, was reporting that night that there was what she called mass hysteria, that was her phrase, that night, june 12th in the white house, because the president was considering firing
special prosecutor robert mueller. and now, seven months later, the "new york times" is confirming april ryan's report and adding that the president actually ordered the firing of the special prosecutor in the stunning lead of its breaking news stories tonight the "new york times" said president trump ordered the firing last june of robert s. mueller, iii, the special prosecutor overseeing the russia investigation, according to four people told of the matter. but ultimately backed down after the white house counsel threatened to fire instead of carrying out the order. and it says robert mueller learned about it in recent months as his team interviewed current and former white house officials in his inquiry about whether the president obstructed justice. so robert mueller knows.
robert mueller knows that the president tried to fire him. robert mueller wants to interview the president in his investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president, and he knows that one of the pieces of evidence of obstruction of justice is that the president tried to fire him. the president's firing of fbi director james comey provoked the appointment of the special prosecutor, who is investigating the president for obstruction of justice because of the firing of james comey. and now we know the president tried to fire the special prosecutor himself. and now donald trump knows that the special prosecutor knows that the president tried to fire him. is the president still eager tonight, as he says he was last night, to be interviewed by the special prosecutor who knows the president tried to fire him? the president has probably known that since december 2nd.
probably known. could have known since december 2nd, that robert mueller knows that the president tried to fire him because december 2nd is the day when we discovered publically that don mcgahn, the white house counsel, had been interviewed by the special counsel. the "new york time "the washington post" reported that the white house council had been interviewed. so he should have known that his white house counsel, having refused that order, which no white house counsel probably has son since richard nixon, refusing an order, the president should have known tha that would come up. but it's not clear that this president of the united states understands that one plus one equals two, so it's entirely possible that this president of
the united states did not discover, until tonight when we all zodiscovered that the speci prosecutor found out that the president tried to fire him. and he knows that because the white house counsel told him that. and reince priebus, the white house chief of staff in june when this happened, he has been interviewed by the special prosecutor he no doubt told the special prosecutor that the president ordered the firing of the special prosecutor. steve bannon has not yet been interviewed by the special prosecutor but we know what he's going to say, he's going to say what he said in michael wolff's book, the president repeatedly said i can fire him. i can fire him. here's one passage. let's do it?
why not? let's do it. what am i going to do? am i going to go in and save him? he's donald trump. turns out don mcgahn went in and saved him from firing robert mueller. is that enough to save him from charges of obstruction of justice? in a moment we'll be joined by jerry reed, david k. johnson and others but we're joined by harry lipman, a professor at the university of california, and also david frum, author of the "new york times" best selling book "trumpocracy" and also ari melber. ari, where does this newsstand in the time line of the story. >> this is the biggest thing to happen in the russia probe since the firing of james comey, which set off the hiring of this special prosecutor, who is now
someone donald trump ordered to fire. this is not i thought about it, i mused, we talked about it over dinner. he called his white house counsel he ordered it to take place. if you had a different person in the job maybe it would have taken place. if you had a different person in the job they would have retired on the spot. given what is an unlawful order. he had the middle position, someone who said this is so terrible, potentially unlawful, i won't do it, i might resign, but also i'm not going to resign. why is it coming out now? i think you eluded to it in your report, i think it's coming out because it's getting up in the interviews and there are people who may have liability, people who could go to jail for participating in an ongoing conspiracy of obstruction and some of them want the "new york
times" to know they weren't in on it. and if they were asked to do it, they didn't do it. and that's because the heat was on. >> your reaction to this news? >> ari is dead on. huge story. but remember, mueller has a wealth of evidence about obstruction and the biggest point here is just one more entry in the long list against trump. it shows corrupt intent, makes it very difficult for him to try to concoct another explanation. i think it is heartening that mcgahn stopped it in its tracks although he's doing what he's supposed to do, looking out for the interest of trump, who here once again was trying to use the department of justice as his own personal lawyers. doesn't seem to know the basic difference between law enforcement and a personal staff. >> let's listen to the president in august. this is two months after -- remember when you listen to
this, this is two months after he ordered the firing of the special prosecutor. let's listen to this. >> mr. president, have you thought about, considered the d dismissal of the special prosecutor? >> i haven't given it any thought. i've been reading about it from you people, i'm going to dismiss him. no, i'm not dismissing anybody. i want him to get on with the task. >> august we says i haven't given any thought. we now know two months earlier he ordered it. >> consider this, how possible is this, that donald trump gave the order in june to fire bob mueller, was dissuaded by his white house counsel and that was it, it was all behind him. isn't it more likely that there's been repeated attempts and murmurs and threats and maybe he's thinking about it at
this very moment and this white house has been cracking under the pressure of trying to contain the president. and we have heard that his lawyers again and again have told him this thing is going to be wrapped up soon, wrapped up by thanksgiving, then christmas, then new year's day. has donald trump figured out they were deceiving him in order to contain him? >> ari, "the washington post" has a follow-up an important here in their reporting on the story, saying that don mcgahn did not say this directly to the president. >> right. >> he did not deny the president directly. he did it through someone else. that would be in any white house, the white house chief of staff. so that would make reince priebus a direct conduit of this information and obviously a witness to all of this, and reince priebus has already talked to the special prosecutor. >> i think it's a reasonable inference that he said it to the chief of staff or a family member because we know they play dual roles. you don't go down the chart and
call junior people and bring them into this mess. it's a small number of people that could reasonably be part of that. they have liability if bob mueller's investigation finds that they may have been part of the ongoing obstruction if there was obstruction. that's a legal conclusion that's under investigation. another key point here that is very bad for donald trump. what everyone thinks of his management style and the way he talks and how often he lies, many of those things are not crimes. and so, many of the things that he does that people don't like are not in any way criminal, however objectionable they may be in a democracy. the difference here, why this is potentially worse than the comey firing, depending on what mueller finds, is that the ignorance excuse no longer applies. there may be an excuse for the comey firing that it was not technically obstruction, not a crime, because the president was so ignorant, so out of the loop,
that he thought he was firing a toy gun and even if a bullet went of you of the it he didn't know. now we have report this is week that more bullets came out. the pressure to move the deputy attorney general. and number two's tonight's news that he threatened to do it to robert mueller and don mcgahn threatened to resign. so even if you give him the benefit of the doubt at first, the ignorance defense is evaporating before our eyes. >> harry, lipman i'd like to put you in the position of the white house counsel when the president orders you to fire the special prosecutor. what would you have done? would you have done anything differently than what don mcgahn did? >> look, i don't think so. it's heartening that he stood up and makes a point here. everyone has been thinking our only possible salvation is if congressional republicans
finally put country over party. but there is another source, another softer source, which is professionals in washington being able to stand up to trump and say we won't do it. it's the same thing we have in mind if he tries to fire comey -- >> i have a slightly less charitable interpretation. that could be true and great for don mcgahn, but i want to report, the alternative interpretation is don mcgahn thought he was being asked to commit a crime, and thinking of himself, saying to rod rosenstein, will you help me obstruct the law, a, and no, and i have to call robert mueller, there could have been as much self-interest here. we don't know, but we can't conclude what the situation was. >> let me add this. if don mcgahn had reason to
believe that what the president was trying to execute was the crime of obstruction of justice, if, for example, there were remarks like i can't have him investigating my personal finances, i can't let him investigate a variety of things about me because there's things there i won't be able to survive, i'm going to have to fire him because i don't want to go to prison -- take the dialogue all the way out there. at what point in the dialogue would the white house counsel have to consider himself the witness to a crime and require an action other than just resisting what the president wants to do? >> pretty early. this is really, as ari says, this e vis rates the last defense. we know the facts here. trump's only hope is to show there wasn't corrupt intent. if he's displaying it to the white house counsel, then his defense is totally demolished. however the white house counsel is trump's lawyer. so it's the same thing as if
someone said it to a lawyer personally. but the law there is, you cannot participate in a fraud on behalf of the client. so if he's really being recruited to, in fact, obstruct justice, yeah, he has to think about himself as well. >> david, from the scene -- >> the white house counsel is the white house lawyer, not the president's lawyer, right? there's no attorney-client privilege. he's supposed to put the interest of the presidency first, not the interest of the particular president. >> that's right. >> david, this is part of what we've been reading about in michael wolff's book in "fire and fury" he said it was the president's claim he could do something, i could fire him, he said say. it was another of his repetitive loops, i can fire him, i can
fire him. mueller. the idea of a show down in which the stronger, more determined man prevails was central to trump's own personal methology. so this is absolutely consistent with his character. >> and don mcgahn has not been showing himself a hero at other moments. i think ari's reading of this is shrewd. he wasn't a hero during the comey firing. >> weer going to be joined now by david k johnston and joy reed is making her way into the studio. david your reaction to this development tonight. >> this advances the story a lot from last summer when april reported on it and christopher ruddy, a publisher who's close with trump, said that trump was perhaps thinking of firing
mueller. now you have a very clear story with four sources and two newspapers backing this up, that the president was proposing to do something which i think is clearly unlawful. you can do lawful things in an unlawful way and arguably advances a conspiracy involving this administration. and this issue of the independence of the justice department's prosecutors, this has a history that goes back to john quincy adams. but donald doesn't know any of this, doesn't have any respect for law and he expects you to be loyal to him. this is in some ways not surprising. i think it's a good question to ask, when are the principled republicans going to start saying, we need to seriously look at this. there's something amiss here. >> let's go to june 12th. this is when as i said in the beginning of the show, april ryan reported on june 12th that there was what she called mass hysteria in the trump white
house because the president was considering firing the special prosecutor. david k. johnston just mentioned chris cruddy talking about this on june 12th, on the same day on pbs. let's listen to this. >> i think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. i think he's weighing that option. i think it's pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently. >> joy reed, april ryan says mass hysteria in the white house on june 12th, there's chris ruddy a friend of donald trump's has contact with him all the time saying on june 12th yes. >> and for the "new york times" just fishing for reasons to do it. looking at a dispute over fees at trump national golf club in virginia, that mueller had been a member there. he'd be representing jared kushner another reason. so fishing for any reason he could to get rid of mueller.
i think ari made a point, there's a question of whether donald trump is ignorant or whether he's corrupt. the more information you get is corrupt. you can't be that ignorant if you're going beyond the russia investigation and saying we had disputes over fees at my golf club. he's looking for any reason to dis get rid of this guy. we have don mcgahn, who's not a hero, i agree. it's not as if he wasn't trying to get jeff sessions not to recuse himself. remember don mcgahn was part of that, too. so you have donald trump trying to assemble around himself a protection force. and feel like all these attorneys around him need to protect him. protect him from what? >> joy is adding a piece in the details. if those were real concerns, anyone working for the president, including a lawyer, could certainly explore them, nothing wrong with that. but just as you said, and lawrence was eluding to this earlier, a prefatory remark
russia is on my mind, i need to protect my family finances, so go find me fake reasons for an unlawful firing, okay, now you have other people on the hook for potential obstruction. if you'll permit me. i brought one more aid since we were talking about where the rules are. this is the cfr doj rules it says only the attorney general may remove the special counsel and only for good cause that cause must be specified in writing for the specific reason of his or her removal. if you start asking people, lawyers or others, to falsify those things you're asking people to commit crimes. so the list that joy mentions, the question is was it real or fraud? was it fraud? that's a good reason people want to get far away from the process. >> harry, the process would have been had to be don mcgahn
communicating with rod rosenstein telling him to fire the special prosecutor, and that actually raises the other possibility that is entertained at other parts in this story, is the president considering firing rod rosenstein, in fact, in order to get this done? >> right. exactly. or order rod rosenstein to fire mueller, everyone anticipates rosenstein would resign, rachel brand would resign. we have saturday night massacre analogies here. this is a john dean moment. there's a cancer on the presidency. and at this point e everybody has to circle the wagons. they know history in the white house and they know watergate very well and the analogies begin to abound at that point. >> david johnston, the discussion of this would involve a significant number of people because when you think in any
political office when everyone thinks -- someone thinks the office holder is about to make a mistake, they look for help wherever they can. who can influence this person? who can make this person not do this? >> so the likelihood that jared kushner was pulled in is extremely high. the likelihood the president's daughter was pulled in on this is high. it seems like part of the agenda the special prosecutor would have with all of them. >> right. if you let trump be trump, not only is the there a chance you've committed a crime. but you'll have donald put himself not just in impeachment mode but going to prison. there's a historical point here, after the firing of archbald cox, the judge issued an opinion in which he pointed out, it's clear in american law that you cannot violate the regulation, one ari brought up, because you
are president. so megan would presumably know this, and in addition to protecting himself, which i think is the more reasonable interpretation of this, he would also understand this wouldn't hold up and the three-week reads for attacking mueller, i would not be surprised if that ended up in a courtroom that the judge would dismiss it as a frivolous. the worst thing the judge can say to a lawyer is you made an argument that's frivolous. >> one of the stunning things about the story, joy, is we're talking about june. this is months after the firing of james comey, when all of these arguments have been rehearsed in the white house. steve bannon in michael wolff's book is arguing against the firing of comey constantly with the president, it's going on for a while. so the president already has heard all of the reasons why you don't do this before he then decides to do it again.
and bigger. >> and to do it again for the most frivolous of reasons because he once worked for a law firm that once worked for jared kushner or he resigned from trump go international golf club. so he's not even fishing for solid reasons it has to be something based on conduct, egregious enough that the special counsel is no longer qualified to be special counsel. he's represented someone in my family, resigned from my golf club is grasping at straws. so you go back, why is he so determined this person must go. it leads you to believe that there's got to be a lot of fire behind the smoke that mueller is dredging up. >> it's june, it's a point when robert mueller's stock is high with republicans in washington, most importantly republican senators. it's a different climate now
where they've gone to some strange conspiracy theory about everything. but in those days you had lindsey graham, and other senators as defenders of mueller. >> they had what donald trump's lawyer called the expectation of a, quote, fact-based exoneration. if someone comes in and you're being investigated for something you didn't do, that's fine. that was the mood outside the white house. for some reason, we don't know the reason, for some reason donald trump couldn't put up with that. he needed more and tried to get it done and the only reason everyone didn't look up on their tvs that night and see bob mueller was fired was the lawyers around trump decided that would be worse than standing up to him. >> don't move. we're going to squeeze in a break here and we're going to be right back. ♪
we're continuing our breaking news coverage tonight of the "new york times" report that president trump ordered robert mueller fired last june, but he ended up not going through with it after the white house counsel don mcgahn threatened to quit over the firing. this news comes a day after the president told reporters that he would talk to the special prosecutor under oath. president trump's friends, allies, and lawyers, including some people who have known him for decades, believe that is a very, very bad idea because they believe donald trump is incapable of speaking to the special prosecutor without committing perjury. >> the president is convinced
he's done nothing wrong. but the president couldn't possibly know what bob mueller knows about the case. this is what we call a perjury trap. >> under no circumstances should he grand mr. mueller an interview. it's a suicide mission. it's a very clear perjury trap. >> even if mueller's not setting it up as a perjury trap, it still is one. >> i would hope that a fair-minded office of special counsel would approach it in a dutiful way consistent with precedent and it wouldn't be a mere perjury trap. >> joy reed, it turns out a perjury trap for donald trump is putting him under oath. >> having him talk to robert mueller. the question i would have too and maybe ari has the answer to this. on the question of obstruction, does donald trump need to have succeeded in obstructing
justice -- >> can you just attempt? >> right. doing something proactive to impede the investigation. let's say this guy quit my golf club, fire him. >> ongoing conspiracy to obstruct is enough even if some aspects aren't successful. if he could corden it off and say every time i tried, my people stopped it, i think that would be a valid attempted defense and we'd have to see what happened. but with what happened, the comey firing, you have the ignorance defense. the chris wray, you have the attempt. and you have the things that you attempted. >> and you have him in the comey case, him telling lester holt, i did it because of russia. and on mueller he's giving
frivolous reasons for firing somebody in such an important decision. so i think the problem for donald trump is the attempt might be the crime. >> joining the discussion, stewart taylor. you've been covering legal matters for a long time. what's your reaction to this news development tonight about the president ordering the firing of a special prosecutor? >> well, i think, as you all -- i think the president's getting in sort of a box. now, remember, this happened back in june. but what's happening now is all of his friends are worried about a perjury trap because robert mueller may want to take his testimony soon and the president said he'd be glad to give the testimony. testifying to robert mueller has a lot of risks. robert mueller is not trying to set a perjury trap. a perjury trap is an illegal attempt by a prosecutor to get somebody into a grand jury to make a case.
mueller is not going to do that. it's possible the president would get in there and say a lot of things that aren't true. we've all seen him say lots and lots of things that aren't true. it's not necessarily perjury if it's an honest mistake or just bluster. but any lawyer for the president would be worried about him going in to see robert mueller. one problem they have is if mueller subpoenas him, he has to testify. he can't i don't feel like it, i'm the president i don't feel like doing it. he can't say i'll take the fifth amendment. president clinton had to testify in front of the grand jury, and i'm afraid president trump is going to have to and he's not going to have to. >> if the president tried to take the fifth amendment it would be entirely possible that the special prosecutor would grant him criminal immunity to everything he's testifying to and then he has no fifth amendment rights left.
obviously the special prosecutor would be able to the bring everything he found to congress if they want to make an impeachment maneuver based on what they discovery in this kind of interview. >> that's right. although it's a long shot, you wouldn't do that with the person who's the target of the prosecution. but i want to say stewart is dead right. this is not a personaljury trap. the government is not playing got ya here. if he goes in front of a grand jury and tells the truth he incull pates himself. so he has to cast for something that will exculpate him. so he has to look for a lie. it's true he's a pathological liar, but the only way he can get out of the charges is by lying. that's not a perjury trap. >> one of the challenges the president would have is what he said to lester holt on video
about why he fired james comey. he's going to have to somehow find a different answer that -- although different somehow doesn't put him in conflict with what he said to lester holt. i don't know how you answer that question. >> trump has a problem here with the donald tells someone he lies he can't keep them straight and says whatever's in his head at the moment. but to be clear, to have impact, mueller can't just catch trump lying. that's like shooting fish in a barrel. he has to show substance. it's to show a connection back to the russians, that money changed hands, that's what we'll see at some point that money or things of value changed hands. let's not forget in the context of all of this, the first original e-mail that don trump jr. got wasn't would you like to discuss a foreign power helping
you, it assumed they were already helping them and said as part of our efforts to help you. now you put it together with all the things that trump has said and done, and this new reporting that shows he acted, he tried to do it and was blocked, and you have a stronger case for high crimes and misdemeanors. especially because the president cannot use his pardon power to prevent impeachment. >> i want to get our legal experts on a question i've been wondering about for months now. first i want to show the video of me asking the questions of one of the former watergate prosecutors, jill wine-banks, and that's how do you serve a subpoena on the president if you have to. le they never figured out how to do that with richard nixon if they had to. listen to what she says. >> did you have to consider this during the nixon investigation,
if we have to serve a subpoena, how do we put the piece of paper in the president's hand? >> we did worry about that. we eventually worked out the subpoena went through his lawyers and they accepted delivery of the subpoena. but then we worried about if he didn't comply with the subpoena by turning over the documents, how would we get a marshal to enter the white house to seize the documents. that was a serious question. and we never really figured out an answer. but luckily public pressure after the saturday night massacre forced the president to give us the tapes. >> the watergate prosecutors never figured out how to serve a subpoena on the president if his lawyers were unwilling to accept it on his behalf. >> i'm a little surprised to hear jill wine-banks say what he just said. you give it to the white house counsel, he takes it on behalf of the president. if the president refuses to hand over the documents, you go to the court, you go to a judge and you say, judge, he's refusing to
comply with subpoena. we move that you hold him in contempt of court. i think the judge will hold him in contempt of court. >> i'm going to get mechanical for a moment. the u.s. marshal serving the subpoena will go to the front gate of the white house on pennsylvania avenue and will not be able to hand the subpoena to the president. there's no power that the marshal has to get him through the security gate. >> but the white house counsel has to come out at some point. on his way home, i don't think he's going to run down pennsylvania avenue yelling catch me if you can. >> that could be it. >> if you're the white house counsel you can't live with the idea no i won't take a subpoena to be served on the president. >> that could be it. the marshal goes to don mcgahn's house. >> two different points. one's trivial but one's serious.
in terms of serving the initial subpoena you ask ty cobb to accept service, ty cobb says yes otherwise somebody follows around the president and a security guard. but if the second scenario that jill wine-banks talked about if it's been ordered to see the documents and the president says no and disobeys. it's a bigger problem. that's a strait out defiance of the court. that's an anticonstitutional maneuver. and at the end of the day, everybody thinks that maybe trump will be so out there, so different from nixon and every other president -- >> he will be. >> -- that he will try to the disobey orders. then we have bigger problems than the marshal at the gate. >> i wish you had more free time
we could have brought you to law school, it would have been way more fun. but it's deeper, richard nixon was a crook and an institutionalist. >> and he was a lawyer. >> i'm not here to defend richard nixon because obviously he did many things we learned that a crook would do on the way. but in the end there was a part of him that was an institutionalist and even though there was missing minutes they did comply with the supreme court order on the tapes. and he did resign when he learned what the congress thought. i don't know legally if bob mueller will find that donald trump is or is not a crook. we report on that. that's what the investigation is about. i do know that donald trump is not an institutionalist so the deeper question of what happens when you have someone who is the head of an institution, but not only defies institutionalism and
respect for it but seems to delight in it and welcome it and seek it. those are the questions that i think tonight are on display. we learned about two potential saturday night massacres. >> that's right. >> i wonder what's going through the mind of one paul ryan, because at some point in what you just said ari is we don't know what the congress thinks about it. up till now paul ryan has been nothing but a toady, a sup lecant to trump. he's allowed every deck. degradation of the presidency. will paul ryan, if donald trump refuses the lawful subpoena, refuses to respond to the special counsel, refuses to answer question and utterly creates a constitutional crisis. does paul ryan have the guts, the courage to stand up to the president of the united states? he has shown absolutely no courage. zero. up until now.
none. but it will be on paul ryan at that point to defend the institutions of this democracy. i don't have any faith in him, but anyone who does, maybe should start e-mailing him and calling him now. >> everyone stay with us. and during the break i want all of you to contemplate whether donald trump really will be interviewed by the special prosecutor in the next couple of weeks as he said he would last night. does tonight's news change that? does tonight's news change the president's willingness to cooperate wan interview like that? stay with us. we'll be right back. itan interv that? stay with us. we'll be right back. han intervi that? stay with us. we'll be right back. an intervie that? stay with us. we'll be right back. an intervie like that? stay with us. we'll be right back. an intervie like that? stay with us. we'll be right back. n interviewe that? stay with us. we'll be right back. when you look at the mercedes-benz glc...
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ask your doctor or pharmacist about prevnar 13®. i see no reason for him to be dismissed. and the only reason you can do it is for cause. and if there's some effort to do it without a good reason there'd be holy hell to pay. >> that was lindsey graham four months after the president trump ordered the firing of special prosecutor robert mueller. of course, grandma couham could know that. nbc news is now confirming the story as more news organizations move in to confirming it. nbc news says a source with firsthand knowledge close to the white house confirms to nbc news
that president trump ordered his white house counsel to fire the special counsel last june don mcgahn refused, threatened to quit and the president ultimately backed down. this was first reported by the "new york times." the question before we went to the break. does tonight's news change the president's willingness to submit to an interview with robert mueller? >> i don't know. i imagine donald trump talking to both his criminal defense counsel, john dowd, and don mcgahn, the white house counsel, about some of this in potential preparation. i imagine don mcgahn saying remember, you have to be honest. don't lie about that time you told me to fire mueller. and i can imagine, donald trump, based on his recent comments saying something we'll see, or i'll handle it or i got it. or i'm not sure i remember that, which is about the time the fbi director reportedly threatened to resign when he was trying to oust comey's deputy.
and i can imagine don mcgahn thinking this could be a lot worse. not because donald trump knows about this stuff and thinksroug right through it like everything else. he thinks he can outdo mueller which is not the modest, measured, smart way to go into one of these interviews. i can imagine all that. i don't know how they calculate. >> it seems ty cobb wants to submit to the interview. all of donald trump's friends on tv don't want him to, they believe he'll be dragged off in handcuffs if he goes into that interview. then he has his late night phone calls with his billionaires like a wolf tells us about. the criminal attorney, john dowd, has proclaimed it is his decision alone whether the president does this or not. of course, he'll be able to make a recommendation. so he'll have the dowd
recommendation, he'll have the cobb recommendation, he'll have all his friends on tv recommending he not do it. what's he going to do? >> i assume ty cobb doesn't have the ability of knowing what don mcghan has said. does he have notes, maybe, of what he's talked about with donald trump? don's friends on tv have a point, in a sense. when they get in that room, and they know him, he's going to be asked, mr. trump, why did you fire james comey? he's going to have to say what he said to lester holt or say something else. then he'll say, mr. trump, why did you tell mr. holt why you fired him on russia? he'll have to say that. mr. trump, did you tell him to fire james comey? and if he doesn't say what his snoets s snoets s notes say, he's in trouble.
his friends on tv are not crazy. he'll be asked, did you fire -- if he answers him, i fired him because he quit my golf club. nobody is going to believe he was fired because he quit his golf club. so he has a problem when he goes in that room. >> so what does this do to the president's calculation the lawyer is going to make a certain set of recommendations, but we all know donald trump is going to make a decision possibly on his lawyer's advice, possibly his friends on tv's advice, we don't know. he's going to make the decision. he now knows he's going to be interviewed by a special prosecutor who knows the president tried to fire him. will he submit to that interview? >> i don't think so. i don't think he'll do it soon, and that's because the main thing he fears is mueller's bare minimum. mueller's bare minimum here is some kind of live testimony about the obstruction where
there is criminal sanction for lying, either perjury or 1001, the thing that tripped up flynn. that's the thing that trump can't afford to do. i don't think it will happen soon. i think he'll try to do some trick or legal challenge to the subpoena. >> let me get david on this. david, you've been studying and watching donald trump and studying his businesses and reactions, you've been in conversation with donald trump, you know the man. what will his reaction be when he finally has to make that decision? am i really going to go in there and submit to an interview? >> well, the smart strategy for the prosecutors is not to directly assault trump. it's to lure him into other statements and allow him, on his own, to hang himself. and he's entirely capable of doing that. if you directly assault him, he will tighten up, he'll do what you see him do when he crosses his arms, and you'll see him in the white house doing this.
it is getting him to relax and go into bluster mode and he'll hang himself just fine. >> stuart taylor -- >> he'll seek insurances in advance that it won't be about obstruction, and mueller can't give that. >> stuart, let's go to that question of does this recommendation change trump's opinion about whether he'll cooperate and give an interview, and if he chooses now not to give an interview, then what happens? >> he might. then what happens, i think, is that mueller moves the court to hold him in contempt for defying a subpoena. now, the court is not going to send martials in to drag him off and put him in jail, but a contempt of court ruling -- by the way, there was one against bill clinton for lying to -- in his deposition . a contempt of court ruling is already on its way to an impeachment. i would think if i were trump's lawyer, and thank god i'm not for both of us, i would say if
they ask you why you said what you said to less to her hoter h russians in the oval office, i would say, i said what i said. it's been on tv. what else is new? once he starts explaining, as has been pointed out, i think all the explanations either begin to look absolutely ridiculous or it would be lies. >> if he turns down interstate view, which is the cooperative version of doing this, as stuart says, the next stage is a subpoena to come to a grand jury where there is even more tension, in certain ways, a little more risk than the interview process, your lawyer can't be in the room. in the interview your lawyer can be in the room. in the interview, you can stop and say, excuse me, let me just talk to my attorney for a second before i ask the question. there is lots of leeway you can have in the interview room that you can't have in a jury room.
you can talk to your lawyer in the jury room but only by leaving the room. you have to get up, leave the witness stand, leave the room, dom back in the room. that's the next stage if he refuses the interview. >> that's exactly right. bill clinton did try to fight over time, but ultimately that leverage that the grand subpoena carries did force their hand. so the precedent here -- >> again, bill clinton, institutionalist, understood the rule of powers and wasn't going to defy those. >> these kind of prosecutors do have leverage. you say the interview is actually the better deal. if you fight too hard, you can get a worse deal. to your point about donald trump's friends on tv, notice his allies on tv are afraid he will go in and lie. his lawyers -- >> they're not afraid, they know he will. he has promised america he will. >> so his allies on tv have a belief he will go in and lie. his lawyers are concerned he will go in and tell the truth about all this.
>> what is that concern, that he'll tell the truth? that the truth will actually be criminal? >> the concern is people say -- well, in nixon there were tapes. that's different. as joy and you have alluded to, there were tapes here, too. lester holt made them. there were tapes in public of someone saying i fired him over russia. >> i think stuart has the idea of how you handle the lester holt tape. if you're trump, you say, it speaks for yourself. whatever question you're asked, yust look at the tape, it speaks for itself. >> the problem is, even if you put aside the russia stuff, which is a lot to put aside, the problem for donald trump is that lying in and of itself to mueller is a crime. he can commit a crime in the process of the interview. if you read the "new york times," the rambling, the places he goes in his mind, donald trump is not a good interviewee. he won't do himself any good in
the interview. his friends know that, he is probably more hopeful than his friends, but i don't see it benefiting him at all. it can hurt him. at the end of the day, when he was his most relaxed in front of lester holt, he did tell him the truth about why he fired comey. >> we have a report on this that trump's ire on this rose to such a level that steve bannon and reince priebus grew incredibly concerned that he was going to fire mueller and sought to enlist others to intervene according to a trump adviser who requested anonymity to discuss in private, and we're left to guess. this is one of the horrors for donald trump, that people like steven bannon and reince priebus
are out there. they are in possession of all this information, they are available to reporters, and it surely reads as if they are helping him. >> first of all, remember, all leaks like this come from the defense, they don't come from the prosecutors when you're dealing with a criminal investigation, or the people around the defense. secondly, these people are not going to go to jail for donald trump. that's a real problem for him. and if you're worried about a martial can't get to the gate, donald trump, who speaks in dictatorial terms, will think to himself, do i need the military to retain power? the checks and balances in our constitution are the words on paper. it is the deeds of men and women that matter, and the constitutional crisis we could face at some point is trump trying to not leave office if he's impeached or not appear before a grand jury and not obey a contempt citation. >> and david k. johnson gets
tonight's last word. thank you all for joining us in that last hour of important breaking news. much more now on the breaking news ahead on "the 11th hour with brian williams" which starts now. tonight the "new york times" out with a big story that donald trump ordered the firing of robert mueller until his white house lawyer said, if he goes, i go, too. tonight what it means that it apparently came to close to happening. how will fellow republicans react, and is the president really looking forward to sitting down with mueller under oath? this also makes for another huge story here while the president is over there. hours from now he starts his day in davos against the backdrop of big news from back home. "the 11th hour" on a thursday night begins now. and good evening once again from our nbc news headquarters here in new york. day 371 of the trump administration and we have breaking news t